Burden Iron Works
Burden Iron Works Site
Waterwheel at Burden Iron Works, Troy, NY
|Nearest city||Troy, New York|
|Area||50 acres (20 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #||77000977|
|Added to NRHP||November 10, 1977|
The Burden Iron Works was an iron works and industrial complex on the Hudson River and Wynantskill Creek in Troy, New York. It once housed the Burden Water Wheel, the most powerful vertical water wheel in history. It most likely inspired George Washington Ferris to build the Ferris wheel. The iron works site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an archaeological site in 1977. The Burden Ironworks Office Building was previously listed in 1972.
Burden's horseshoe machine, invented in 1835, and was capable of making 60 horseshoes a minute, was a technological wonder. His rotary concentric squeezer, a machine for working wrought iron, was adopted by iron industries world wide. His hook-headed spike machine helped fuel the rapid expansion of railroads in the U.S.
Henry Burden was born in Scotland and emigrated to the U.S.in 1819. Burden started in the Troy iron industry in 1822, as superintendent of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory, on the Wynantskill in South Troy. Burden's inventions, which automated work that was previously done by hand, made the factory extremely profitable. Burden soon became the sole owner of the factory and renamed it H. Burden and Sons.
Henry Burden realized that Troy's strategic location as a hub of rail and water transportation networks made it possible to produce and ship an enormous quantity of finished goods-fifty one million horseshoes per year, for instance.
The most impressive example of an American overshot water wheel was built by Henry Burden in 1851 to drive his automatic horseshoe and spike manufacturing plant at Troy, New York. This was not the largest water wheel of its type so far as diameter was concerned, being exceeded in this respect, though probable not in power. A larger water wheel is at Laxey on the Isle of Man and at Greenock, Scotland, the latter supplied by Shaw's Waterworks with water from an elevated reservoir. The Burden Water Wheel was sixty-two feet in diameter and twenty-two feet in breath, was supplied by a small stream, the Wynantskill, whose natural fall of some fifty feet was increased substantially together with provision of storage capacity for year round operation by a dam and related structures of conduit and penstock of ingenious design. It weighed 250 tons and could produce 500 horsepower when spinning 2.5 times a minute. The water wheel itself was of what came to be termed the "suspension" type, familiar to us in the bicycle wheel, with iron rods in tension replacing the usual arms. It was made almost entirely of iron, save for the drum or soling of the wheel and its buckets. The appearance of the water wheel and the details of its construction and of the elaborate gearing by means of which the power was taken off and conveyed to the mill are shown in the drawings. This gigantic prime mover was continuously in service night and day for nearly one half of a century. Following its abandonment in the 1890s, it lay idle for another twenty years before its final collapse. A local poet had called it 'the Niagara of Water-wheels'
An exhibit on Greater Troy's industrial history is housed in the former office of the Burden Iron Works. Constructed 1881-2, the distinguished brick Romanesque Revival building contains examples of objects manufactured in the city throughout the 19th century.
The museum is operated by the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, which also maintains downtown Troy's RiverSpark Visitor Center (where there are additional exhibits about the city's history) and sponsors a regular series of tours, including one that focuses on Troy's large concentration of Tiffany windows. Self-guided walking tours of the city's large collection of 19th-century buildings are also available there.
The museum is open by appointment only.
- Burden Iron Works, Wynants Kill & Burden Street, Troy, Rensselaer, NY: 5 photos and 25 data pages at Historic American Building Survey
- Burden Iron Works, Upper (Water) Works, Burden Street & Wynants Kill, Troy, Rensselaer, NY: 4 photos and 1 data page at Historic American Building Survey
- Burden Iron Works, Office Building, Polk Street, Troy, Rensselaer, NY: 6 photos and 5 data pages at Historic American Building Survey
- Burden Iron Works, Lower (Steam) Works, Hudson River, Wynants Kill Vicinity, Troy, Rensselaer, NY: 3 photos and 1 data page at Historic American Building Survey
- Burden Iron Works, Water Wheel, U.S. Route 4, Troy, Rensselaer, NY: 4 photos and 1 data page at Historic American Building Survey
- Museum Home Page
- Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area: Burden Iron Works Museum
- Henry Burden and the Water Wheel
- Lost Landmarks: Rensselaer Iron Works Trial by Fire